Freedom Paper in a spot of bother
Britain’s anarchist movement newspaper is in a spot of financial difficulty, after 125 years – taken from Freedom Press.
Now that we’re bust and what we’re going to do about it
As many comrades are aware, Freedom has continued thanks to a significant donation in 2005. This not only enabled us to keep the paper going, but also to publish large print runs of important anarchist classics and undertake work to the building such as moving the shop downstairs. It has also meant that we have been able to pay people (albeit at very low rates) who are doing work which prevents them getting gainful employment elsewhere. This has enabled the political transformation of Freedom Press from a group with a particular viewpoint within anarchism to a resource responsible to the broad movement. We don’t want to return to a situation where Freedom is run simply by those with spare time or money who then determine its politics.
While we can’t have an ideal accountable structure (the undercover cop federation would end up in charge) the Freedom collective includes comrades from The Anarchist Federation, The Solidarity Federation, Corporate Watch, Anarchist Black Cross, Liberty and Solidarity, Advisory Service for Squatters, Action East End, Anti Fascist Network, Legal Defence and Monitoring Group as well as non-aligned comrades – be fair you can’t expect Donald to set up a new group at 84.
However, the 2005 donation has now run out. This is not unexpected of itself, but it has happened sooner than we anticipated because of the Beating the Fascists photograph saga. When we published this book in 2009 it was illustrated with photographs supplied by the authors. Unbeknown to us, these included pictures taken by David Hoffman which were still under copyright. We have ended up paying him £4,000 for the use of these pictures rather than face legal action. While this was a stupid mistake by us, it’s very disappointing that someone who claims to support anti-fascist politics and made money from their photographs, while enjoying protection from the far right on demonstrations, should chose to extract money from a radical publisher for a genuine mistake. The result is that we have had to reconsider the future far sooner than we thought.
We will still be able to carry on at 84b with the shop and distributing books and, of course, all the offices, meetings and other activities in the building. However we are going to look seriously at continuing producing a hard-copy paper. Freedom is (and for a long time has been the only) regular paper of the anarchist movement in this country, yet the number of subscribers (around 300) and groups/individuals distributing it (about 10) is tiny. The exact size of the anarchist movement is known only to the Box and the Branch, but given that the London Anarchist Bookfair attracts around 3,000 people, they can’t all be undercovers. Thus we know only a minority want to read and an insignificant minority distribute Freedom. This could be because printed newspapers have had their day as a form of propaganda, or it could be the paper’s rubbish. Nothing we can do about the former, but fixing the latter will be down to more comrades writing better stuff. However before considering shutting the paper down we want to explore the possibility that the majority of the movement simply haven’t considered the possibilities of using Freedom to spread the anarchist message. Even if comrades don’t want to spread the anarchist message, they can at least make a few bob selling it. Freedom is printed for free by Aldgate Press out of their historic loyalty to the movement. However we still have to pay for layout and folding, admin and postage. Subscriptions would need to rise to around 500 to break even, or raise the UK subscription to £36. It seems a shame to give up such a resource as free printing for the movement, so if we discontinued the hard copy of the paper we would ask Aldgate if they would be prepared to do any other stuff either free or discounted.
In reality. The only test that we can do to decide whether to continue with the paper is to see if there is practical support in the movement for it. This has two elements. Financially, at the current level of subscriptions we would need £4,000 in donations a year to keep the paper going. Obviously there are many good causes competing for comrades’ money and if you or your group think that the cash should be spent on other projects then that’s well and good. More significantly, does the anarchist movement think that producing and distributing Freedom is beneficial to the anarchist cause and is it prepared to do so. If the situation remains as it is now we will end the hard copy version in October on its 125th Anniversary and put out some guff about it transforming into a digital entity for the online age.
Appeal and public meeting at the Bookfair
Hence we are launching an appeal for donations towards keeping the paper going and to get more people to take the paper on sale or return. We will keep comrades informed both in print and on the website how it’s going. We are having a meeting at the London Anarchist Bookfair so comrades have a chance to discuss the future of the paper face to face.
This article appears in the July 2012 issue of Freedom.